Why Chicago business needs protected bike lanes

By: Donald Wilson December 11, 2012

Source: Crain’s Chicago Business

Part of the Kinzie Avenue bike lane near the Blommer Chocolate factory.
Image via © City of Chicago

For years, Chicago has worked to position itself as a technology center with the goal of attracting companies in that industry, and the well-paying jobs that come with them. While many of these efforts have paid off, Chicago still has a ways to go before it becomes truly competitive with the nation’s primary technology hubs.

Now there is an initiative underway that may have an impact on Chicago’s ability to thrive as a technology center: Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to make Chicago the most bike friendly city in the U.S.

The connection between low-tech transportation and high-tech jobs is not readily obvious. A bike friendly environment will boost Chicago’s ability to attract talent — and retain the robust technology sector that the city has worked so hard to cultivate.

Bike friendliness can be a factor in where an individual decides to live and work. In a 2009 survey of recent transplants to Portland, Ore., 62 percent of respondents said the city’s bike friendliness was a factor in their decision to move there. Chicago-based technology company GrubHub Inc. now showcases Chicago’s new protected bike lanes as part of their recruitment strategy.

Protected bike lanes are one of the best ways to make biking safer and lower crash rates. After New York introduced protected bike lanes on 9th Avenue in Manhattan, crash injuries for all street users decreased 56 percent.

I know how challenging it can be to attract technology talent to Chicago, particularly when alternative cities may appear more attractive and a better fit for an active lifestyle. At my firm, DRW Trading Group, high-tech professions represent a significant portion of our employee base, and more than a third of the employees in our Chicago headquarters are under age 30. They are at an age where it is often easy to pick up and move on to a more attractive career opportunity — or more attractive city. All of Chicago — not just trading firms — cannot afford to lose this talent.

Currently, about 40 employees — more than 10 percent of DRW’s workforce —bike to work on a regular basis, a group that includes me. I started primarily so I could get some exercise. I quickly realized that biking is one of the fastest and most efficient ways to get around our city. Now on those rare occasions that I do drive and I’m stuck in rush-hour traffic, my car feels frustratingly slow in comparison.

The 100 miles of protected bike lanes being installed in neighborhoods across the city, including through the heart of Chicago’s business district on Dearborn Street, will go a long way towards making Chicago a bike friendly city and encouraging more people to bike to work. This shows that Chicago is serious about being bike friendly — and about being tech job friendly.

Donald Wilson is founder of DRW Trading Group